I am so honored to have been chosen by Mimi Matthews to be part of her launch team for Return to Satterthwaite Court! This delightful novel of historical fiction is the third in the series of Somerset Stories, after The Work of Art and Gentleman Jim. But it also works perfectly fine as a standalone. The other books, each wonderful in its own way, are only lightly referenced.
It is December 1844 when we meet Lady Katherine Beresford and Lt. Charles Heywood, who has recently returned from several years at sea. Like the best literary romances there is awkwardness, tension, even annoyance, right from the beginning when these two have their first haphazard meeting on a busy street. Throw in a horrified best friend and a mangy stray dog and the encounter is nothing if not comical. And while Kate (Lady Katherine) is much more tenacious than most Victorian young ladies, she is kind and endearing in her pursuit of the handsome lieutenant. Her determination serves only as a reminder that females of that era had to orchestrate certain parts of their lives when so many other things were beyond their control.
There is mystery, intrigue, and terrific banter between the two characters. It easily played out as an entertaining movie in my mind’s eye, reminding me of some of my favorite onscreen couples. Because, although you know they will get together in the end, the journey to that conclusion is great fun.
If you love clean historical fiction with excellent character development and witty dialogue, I highly recommend this charming book!
There is someone who I need to add to this blog and that is Irish author Sarah Crossan. I just discovered her books a few weeks ago and quickly flew through two of them. I’ve never seen anyone tackle heavy subjects like she does, and with such a deft combination of pathos and wit. And, even though her books are marketed for Young Adults, I highly recommend them for older readers as well.
The first I read is One, the story of conjoined twins Tippi and Grace. As we follow the sisters, we learn about what is required when two people share parts of a human body. Each movement of every day necessitates coordination, patience, and compromise. Grace, the physically weaker of the twins, is the dominant narrator, which I found to be a very interesting choice by the author. Once we get to know these two girls, however, it makes more sense. Grace is quiet and observant, even passive, while Tippi is fearless and vibrant. Now teenagers, the girls have proven everyone wrong in how long they’ve lived. Unfortunately, a crucial decision must be made, demonstrating Grace and Tippi’s emotional connection transcends even their physical bond. This is a story that will carve a place in your heart. The characters are fascinating, as is Sarah Crossan’s unique writing style. 9/10 Stars
Next I read Moonrise, (sometimes marketed as The Moon Brothers) a completely different story but just as touching. This novel deals with the controversial topic of capital punishment. The youngest of three children in an extremely dysfunctional family, seventeen year old Joe Moon makes the brave decision to travel alone to Texas to visit his older brother, Ed, who awaits execution on Death Row. After a ten year separation and numerous reminders from others that it’s best to cut Ed out of his life, Joe focuses on the kindness and protection his brother always showed him. Over several weeks, with Joe set up in a dingy apartment near the prison, the two brothers reunite and reminisce. Meanwhile, the end looms over them like an ominous cloud. I found this book absolutely gripping and like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s a slice of life I hope most of us will never see. 9.5/10 Stars
I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I could’ve handled these books when I was a youth. Maybe, but only maybe. Certainly my perspective would’ve been different without the years of living I’ve known since then, but it isn’t like the experiences in each novel have been remotely on my radar. Interestingly, though, I don’t think we are meant to relate to any of these main characters. How could we? Instead, we are taught compassion and acceptance through the examples of characters more heroic than they’ll ever know. In the midst of their suffering, these young people exemplify courage and grace beyond their years.
I implore any reader who seeks a very special literary experience to read both of these books.
Some “pre review” thoughts: As exciting as it is to communicate with a favorite author, it can also be tricky. Boo Walker has been incredibly generous to me, a humble blogger, offering and sending me CDs and MP3s of his two previous books, bringing me on board as a beta reader for his upcoming novel in 2024, freely giving and receiving feedback via email, and being a friend on social media. Bottom line: I wanted to love this book. Thankfully, I did. Now, on to the review.
Dr. Carver Livingstone has a lot of things figured out in life. Still in his thirties, he is a successful North Carolina veterinarian with several clinics, a surgical patent, and a staff who adores him. But he has a past, one without closure that he has kept buried and at a distance for twenty years. So when his mother asks him to return home to Vermont and mediate a family issue, it isn’t an easy decision.
Carver is, after all, a man of science. He seeks facts and doesn’t like shades of gray. He can also be slow on the uptake when it comes to emotional cues from others. It’s that “different kind of smart,” an observation not lost on Mrs. Eloise Cartwright, his favorite teacher from high school. Mrs. Cartwright was there for Carver during his darkest moments as a teen and, while he has never forgotten the impact she had on his life, he has cut ties with her as much as with everyone else.
Mrs. Cartwright would hate the cliché, but Carver had to wait for the stars to align. Or maybe they have aligned and he just needed a good push. Either way, things are being set into motion through a series of events beyond his control. Call it Fate or call it Faith, change is on the horizon.
There was so much I loved about The Stars Don’t Lie. Boo Walker effortlessly accomplishes a multitude of objectives with a diverse cast of characters. Diverse in the sense that we meet different people at various stages of life, which means there is someone for whom every reader can relate to and understand. And even though many of them have their own epiphanies, it is Carver who is at the center of it all, trying to stay afloat, constantly doubting his abilities, but still learning what’s most important. All he has to do is look up.
On a grander scale is the writing itself, which is done with terrific skill. The pace is just right and the phrasing is very clever. I highlighted several for future reference. I also found myself tapping into personal memories and feelings that few, if any, books have ever brought to the surface. Last but not least there are the messages, mainly of redemption and reminders that we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves, each conveyed with gentle tenderness. Reading, no, experiencing this book was like finally opening a stuck window and airing out a musty room. A refreshing, emotional detox.
I highly recommend it. (Yes, I’m a bit biased, but I don’t care. I loved it.)
*This book can currently be preordered on Amazon and is only $4.99 for the Kindle edition. Like all of Boo’s previous books, it will likely be available in print, digital, and audio formats if you have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited.
Another triumphant Young Adult book by Julie Buxbaum! This time centering around a socially cloistered teenage boy with above-average intelligence and a high-achieving girl who just lost her father. Is it possible I liked this book even more than Buxbaum’s other emotional novel, Tell Me Three Things? Perhaps. I do know that I labored for a ridiculously long time writing this review. I’m not sure why. Maybe I felt like David and Kit deserved the extra effort.
David and Kit. High school juniors. There’s so much to love about these two. As the reader I feel fiercely protective of them, which just proves Julie Buxbaum’s skill as a writer.
David, with his high functioning autism and awkward genius adorableness. David, with his blunt, literal interpretation of the world and its inhabitants. David, who seesaws between wisdom beyond his years and paralyzing confusion at man’s inhumanity to man. David, who is confident in his strengths but also humble enough to ask for help. (With a special shout out to Miney, who might just be the best big sister EVER.) David, our brave knight in dented armor, but a knight nonetheless.
And Kit. So many Goodreads reviews unfairly tear her apart. Kit, who is dealing with a cacophony of family issues, and deserves nothing but our compassion. Kit, an only child, with heavy emphasis on “only.” Kit, with no sibling to lean on or commiserate with about her parents and their secrets. Kit, with her age-appropriate uncertainty, mired in an impossible situation. Kit, who is suffering in her own isolation and still manages to break through David’s invisible walls. What To Say Next is a gem. A very special read. In fact, the author has admitted it is her favorite book that she’s written. Character driven, but characters who touched my heart so deeply they transcend the page. I loved it and I loved them.
Change is never easy, especially when it involves a devastating loss, but it can also lead to good things you never expected. Aly Jackson should know. As she’s mourning the death of her older brother, Luke, her career and relationship also get upended. The only lifeline she has is a house that Luke left to her on the shore of Lake Michigan.
Of course, nothing is as she expects it to be when Aly arrives. There are still plenty of estate details to figure out, family issues to resolve, and emotions to sort through. But, even in death, Aly’s older brother is her protector, whether she realizes it or not.
This is the first book I’ve read by Camille Pagán. It won’t be my last! She delves into very real feelings, exploring them through Aly with that frustrating combination of confusion, resistance, and wisdom that happens when the rug gets pulled out from under you. Having dealt with similar grief, I felt for Aly and related to her. But even if you have been fortunate enough not to experience such sorrow, this is a book worth reading. I recommend it!
Another triumphant read by Catherine Ryan Hyde! Her stories are so unique, with the only steady common denominator being an unlikely friendship between a child and an adult.
It is the summer of 1969 and fourteen year old Lucas Painter is mourning his older brother’s absence in Vietnam, his best friend’s depression, and his parents’ volatile marriage. His main enjoyment is running, made even better when he befriends two dogs in the woods near his home. What Lucas doesn’t know-and will soon discover-is that the dogs belong to a long time resident and social outcast in their small town. Gossipy and unforgiving, the locals hold a grudge against this woman for a tragedy that happened years before.
Undaunted, Lucas sees past the prejudice. He finds solace in her company, often seeking her wisdom and advice, not even realizing the healing effect of his own presence. As time passes and more characters become involved, festering emotional wounds are confronted and choices must be made.
Like all books by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Stay is one that makes you hold up a mirror and ask how you would behave in a certain situation. We’ve all experienced conflicts, we’ve all been in circumstances with shades of gray, and we’ve all had times when holding a grudge was easier than extending mercy. Easier, but not necessarily right.
I have such a special place in my heart for women in history whose stories waited much too long to be told. Henrietta Lacks, The Radium Girls, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are the ones who immediately spring to mind. And now, Deborah Sampson.
In A Girl Called Samson we have the story of this real-life heroic woman who was abandoned by her father and sold into indentured servitude by her mother. Through a series of events she became one of a handful of females who served valiantly in the Revolutionary War. Author Amy Harmon has filled in the details faded by time, portraying Deborah as a brave and determined soldier, one who never let her gender and society’s rules stand in her way during incredibly challenging times.
My dilemma is the ending. I won’t reveal it, except to say that a very important element in the book is fictional. Why? Why pay respectful homage to this woman only to tamper with the facts? For this reason and because of some extra lengthy war scenes I could only give it 9 stars. But I will say that the book is worth reading. The less you know of actual history, the more you will enjoy it. If the real Deborah Sampson was at all as honorable as our novel’s heroine, she is a person you should know and admire.
This is a Kindle First Reads selection for March 2023, a free book if you have Amazon Prime in the US. Paperback and hardback formats will be available April 1st.
Beginning in London in the 1890s, we follow the journey of ladies’ maid Eliza Chapman, who discovers she is the illegitimate daughter of one of Manhattan’s wealthiest businessmen. Aided by her current employer, Eliza embarks on a luxurious solo trip across the sea to begin her life as a New York heiress.
A very loose Cinderella story, Gilded Girl tackles themes like class distinction and the role of women in an age where suffrage was just beginning to be a topic of conversation. Eliza must confront a new family, a new country, and the myriad of choices and constraints that accompany her new station in life. The rules are many–from how to spend one’s time to who to marry and why. Eliza learns that different people interpret these rules in different ways, which isn’t easy as she still wants to remain a humble, appreciative young woman.
This was an excellent read that kept my attention from start to finish. The pacing is satisfying, the settings are lush, and the characters are very distinct. Eliza is a wonderful protagonist and a credit to women of any age and time period. I recommend it! Available with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.
It’s been another great reading month thanks to snow, rain, and a cough that has decided to set up shop in my lungs for the last several days. There have been book and author discoveries that I hope you will be inspired to pursue! Authors Amy Harmon, Diane Chamberlain, Fiona Davis, and Erin Bartels have been the writers I’m most happy to have found recently. You should definitely check out their books.
Favorites. You will notice there are some with 5 stars (I’m using the Goodreads rating system because it is the most recognizable) and some with “extra shiny” 5 stars. Anything with 5 or 4 stars is one I really liked or loved, but books with those extra shiny ones had a profound effect on my reading experience. We’re talking a “book hangover” type of effect. The kind that lasts for days. All of them have reviews on this site that I will link to and all of them I highly, highly recommend. Let’s take a look:
And there are the 5 star books that didn’t get a review but that I still recommend:
Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck, is a famous quasi-memoir by a beloved American writer. I say “quasi” because its truthfulness has been challenged, even by his own family. Regardless of whether Steinbeck really went to these places or wrote the book while sitting in his own backyard, it’s a charming, introspective tale of a man and his dog off to discover the nation.
The Butterfly Girl, by Rene Denfeld, is part 2 of the Child Finder series and follows more heroic adventures of Naomi Cottle. Once an abducted child herself, Naomi now seeks others who are lost. This time she encounters a young runaway while hunting a killer who preys on children who society has forgotten. Although I liked the first book slightly more (The Child Finder,) this one is still a very worthy sequel.
Everything Is Just Beginning, by Erin Bartels, is the first of many books I plan to read by this author. It is the story of a directionless young man who crashes the party of a big time music producer. Here he meets the producer’s daughter, who, like him, writes and plays songs but has the connections to make dreams a reality. Their friendship and collaboration is full of hope and pathos. The book is full of the poetic lyrics they write together and also has a special QR Code for the reader to listen to a special playlist on Spotify.
And now, on to March! I have several books lined up to read. Let’s see how many find their way here.
How often does the title of a book also describe it? Practically never. But such is the case with The Spectacular, by Fiona Davis, because it is, in a word…spectacular.
Set mostly in 1956, we follow nineteen year old dancer Marion Brooks. Stifled by an over-protective father and a jealous older sister, Marion abandons all caution and decides to audition for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Amazingly, she succeeds and is put through the exhausting grind of long hours, extreme physical exertion, and lofty expectations. Kick high and smile wide, no matter what.
The first half of the book gives us a backstage pass through Marion’s eyes and experiences: the euphoria of being on stage, the fear of disappointing her family, plus the friendships and intricacies of a young woman living independently during a very buttoned up time in history. Then suddenly, this already fascinating plot swerves in a new direction, turning The Spectacularinto a suspenseful thriller.
While Marion is navigating the excitement of professional dance, the Big Apple Bomber is on his sixteenth year terrorizing the city. Pipe bombs are being left in public places such as libraries, phone booths, offices, and theaters. That’s right. Theaters. It is here that Marion’s story gains even more momentum and collides with actual events because these bombings really happened, becoming a case that pioneered the use of criminal profiling in police work and examining the role of severe mental illness as a possible cause for such crimes.
I went into this book with no real idea of what to expect and ended up absolutely mesmerized. Fiona Davis is an extraordinary writer who has created an incredibly immersive story. Marion Brooks is a riveting protagonist, as are the supporting characters in her orbit, all of whom are grappling with challenges and emotions that Davis brings to life in a realistic way. I could feel the energy of events while being transported to 1950s New York City, a living, breathing metropolis which is a character in itself. Its heartbeat echoes throughout the story’s action, romance, and drama with a pulsating rhythm that keeps the reader’s attention from start to finish.
Keep this book on your radar when it releases in June. It is exceptional.
It’s so satisfying when a popular book lives up to the hype because then it isn’t hype anymore, it’s a consensus. Such is the case with Beyond the Wand by Tom Felton, an absolute delight to read! You may know Tom better as the evil Draco Malfoy of the Harry Potter film franchise, representing bullies everywhere with that classic combination of arrogance and cowardice.
Happily, the man behind the bleached hair (yes, man, he’s 35 now,) is much more down-to-earth than his sinister alter ego. But it came at a price, as is the age-old story of many child stars. The youngest of four boys in a loving family, Tom started acting early in life. But it wasn’t until the Harry Potter films when he became recognizable, a fame that steadily increased with the popularity of the books and movies. A heady thing for a young man trying to figure out who he is off the movie set, and one he still has to navigate with caution.
There are some drastic ups and downs, but the majority of the book is ideally paced for the modern attention span. Many celebrity memoirs are filled with superfluous, uninteresting details. This one is not. Tom Felton gives the people what they want, which is a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to grow up among a core cast of actors, many of whom are British screen royalty. The chapters are anecdotal, insightful, interesting, and fun. There are Potter plot spoilers, however, so you might want to be familiar with the series before reading.
My favorite parts are when he writes about antics on set and what it was like to work with so many heavyweights like Dame Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Isaacs, Sir Richard Harris, and Sir Michael Gambon. His gratitude towards these respected actors is genuine and palpable, as is his love for his acting peers, the other young people who bore the enormous responsibility of breathing life into characters beloved throughout the world.
I cannot say enough good things about Beyond the Wand. If you love the Potter film series, this memoir is better than any special features you’ll see on a DVD. It’s a fast read that shows the growth of a young man striving for normality in a very abnormal world. I highly recommend it.
So, a guy writes a novel with no real romance about a guy who is a writer writing a romance novel…wait, what?
Reason and Romance is Terrance Layhew’s debut. It has received pretty great reviews…except from me and a small handful of others. Are those singing its praises being softer on the author because he’s a guy writing a romance novel…about a guy writing a romance novel? If that’s the case, it doesn’t seem quite fair.
George Austen, our protagonist, is an arrogant, emotionally stunted author who is convinced he can write a romance novel using only logic and skill. Because he thinks feelings are a sign of weakness (based on one failed relationship that gets little explanation) he takes the opposite approach, acting obtuse and indifferent to everyone in his circle. A circle he’s lucky to have, I might add.
Enter Margaret Clarke, a fellow writer, who proves herself to be George’s intellectual equal, except for the fact that she keeps trying to get in his good graces no matter how badly he treats her. This boomerang activity goes on ad nauseam, which had me knocking off stars by the end. George just isn’t worth the effort and any last minute epiphanies he has feel out of character and rushed.
(Pssst, Margaret! A word of advice. Give up already. You deserve better. —Signed, Women Everywhere)
Sadly, Reason and Romance was a deflated no-go for me. I liked it but I didn’t love it, which was disappointing. The writing has its smart moments, attempting to be a hybrid of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde, but the pacing and character development is lacking. The wit is there, the banter is there, but the necessary charm is not. It’s too bad, because it has the potential to be a delight.
One of the most satisfying things about reading a book is discovering a new author. One of the most frustrating is reading an excellent book that you’ve shelved for ages, wishing you’d read it sooner. With The Last House On The Street I’m two-for two. But operating on the philosophy that we often read books at the right time in our lives, I’ll be content that I eventually gave it a chance.
There are two timelines, which I understand from fellow readers is consistent with Diane Chamberlain’s books. The first takes place in modern day North Carolina when young widow, Kayla, and her daughter move into a new house in a new development. New except for one older house that has minimal activity except for a light going on here and there. Any sense of security is then shattered when an odd woman shows up at Kayla’s workplace and tells her to move, followed by disturbing notes and events around the house itself.
The second period is in the late Sixties at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Ellie Hockley, the twenty year old daughter of a prominent Southern family, has decided that her life lacks fulfillment. Then she learns about the SCOPE Project–Summer Community Organization and Political Education–designed to help and encourage Black people in poorer neighborhoods to register to vote. Against the wishes of her parents, boyfriend, and best friend, Ellie signs up with the project, convinced that this is the way to make her mark in the world.
The narration switches between Ellie and Kayla, leaving the reader to wonder how their lives will intersect. After all, their experiences are worlds and decades apart, with Ellie canvasing neighborhoods and seeing racism and violence firsthand while Kayla is dealing with her challenges forty years in the future. The dual stories meet in a clever and unique way, keeping me totally engrossed all the way to the end.
Everything about The Last House On The Street is well thought out and interesting. It’s part historical fiction and part suspense. I’ve never read a book quite like it before, but I definitely plan to read more by this author.
One of the popular tropes these days is main characters who “fake date.” They’re either trying to make someone jealous, trying to break someone up, or trying to assuage parents’ concerns. The fake date premise can be done well…or not. The Chemistry of Love, a recent Kindle First Read selection, does a fairly good job, mainly because of its unique setting.
Anna Ellis is a cosmetic chemist hopelessly in love with her boss, Craig, while her immediate supervisor, Jerry, squelches any innovative ideas she proposes. In a state of complete frustration and sorrow, and with the help of a little alcohol, Anna bares her soul to a stranger at a work party. That stranger turns out to be the company’s young CEO, Marco, who suggests that he and Anna fake date to make Craig jealous.
After you’re done rolling your eyes at the lunacy of what you just read I can assure you that it isn’t as bad as it sounds. There are some cringe-worthy moments at the beginning, but the story has more than its share of sweet scenes too. It’s clean with witty banter between Anna and Marco and, though the ending is predictable from the start, I actually enjoyed this book quite a lot.
I’ve been trudging through this book for days and finally finished it. A seemingly perfect family. The mother goes missing. The children are bereft. The husband appears indifferent but insists on his innocence. His law training has taught him to say things without saying them and to talk in circles whenever he’s questioned. This goes on for decades.
And that’s mostly what you read—dialogue, usually with no quotation marks—of questions and answers that lead nowhere, putting the reader in the jury box. It sounds smart, but it’s tiresome and doesn’t make for a great reading experience. Even the ending feels vague and anticlimactic. When I turned the last page and saw I was now reading the author’s acknowledgments, my first thought was “that’s it?”
All That Is Mine I Carry With Me is one of those books that I can only describe as “horizontal.” The characters are there, the descriptions and potential are there, but the ebb and flow is not. And Dan Larkin, the husband constantly under suspicion with his arrogance and passive aggressive ways, is just infuriating.